Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Non-Racist Racist

At a recent social gathering, a woman started to complain about another group that several of the other attendees participated in. The group they were talking about is a non-profit group that is trying to promote equality amoung the races. They have town hall style meetings with speakers ranging from law enforcement to clergy to business leaders. All of various faiths and races. I have never been to one of their functions but I have recently been made aware of them. As of late they have been focusing on Black issues as part of the larger Black Lives Matter campaign. 

A few weeks ago they had a presentation from I Am Not A Mascot, which seeks to educate people about why Natives find the use of their tribal symbols as logos and mascots offensive. I did not attend the presentation due to schedule conflicts but I am well aware of the campaign and had seen the presentation previously.

Because I had not attended the recent events I found the conversation about the organizing group fascinating from an intellectual standpoint. 

I should point out that all of the participants in the conversation are active members of the group that is trying to promote equality, and they are all older, white women. 

The conversation started with one woman asking about an event at a local church that she was unable to attend. The others filled her in on how the event, a town hall style Q&A with several local and state leaders. There was one pastor on the panel who appeared to be showboating as he asked for members of his congregation to identify themselves at the meeting. Someone stated that this was a political move - to show his influence. It was a well attended function but since he was the only clergy on the stage, there is no way to know how many people from other churches were present as no one took a role call - nor should they have. 

The conversation then turned to the Native presentation - and that's when it got interesting. No one had gone to it. One woman asked why the group would even bring in Native issues because Natives "have money." I pointed out that not all do, which lead her to ask if I was Native. I told her no, but that my husband and children were. 

She then went on to criticize the group further for taking on Native issues when they should, in her opinion, be focusing on Black issues. She moved on to criticizing the group for being "all talk" before circling back around to how group should focus on the Black movement. I can't keep a straight face to save my life so my annoyance with her commentary showed. I pointed out that the presentation about mascots is very well done. She then asked again if I was Native. 

Apparently, she forgot my statements from moments before. The whole conversation reminded me of when I was in school and the girls would want to talk about someone behind their back, but wouldn't want them to find out so they made sure to only gossip to people who didn't know, or didn't like, the person they were talking about. 

The worst part of this whole conversation is that all of the other women in the conversation fully participate in the racial equality group. And they all agreed that the other group was off course by bringing in a speaker on Native issues. But none of them consider themselves to be racist. 

People, particularly upper middle class white people, seem to think that by attending a meeting or donating to a cause instantly makes them a non-racist. It doesn't. Racism is in how you treat people. It's when you show pity rather than concern because of the color of person's skin. It's when you attend an event so that you face can be seen rather than because you truly care. 

Racism won't go away overnight. It takes time for people to learn to see past color. This is as true for non-Whites as it is for White people. Racism can't end if race is used as the excuse to avoid responsibility. Racism can't end until both sides stop hating the other. Racism can't end until we can all recognize the racism in ourselves and change it.